Talking with tamariki about scary events


Caitlin on Feb. 28, 2022

The world can feel intense right now. From the TV, to our social feeds, we’re hit with a lot of information that can get us all feeling down - and it’s the same for tamariki.

They overhear conversations, things on the news and talk about what is going on at school. It is common for children to repeat what they whānau is saying and thinking – and sometimes this can cause conflict with others.

At the moment in Aotearoa a lot of tamariki are scared. That’s not surprising, given the last two years we’ve had, and no matter what people’s views are, fear is manifesting and making tamariki feel anxious and afraid.

At Te Mana Whakaatu Classification Office we spend a bit of time looking at trending films, series and things on the internet. There is a lot of challenging and upsetting stuff out there which can make people in Aotearoa not feel good, especially tamariki rangatahi.

If you are watching something that is upsetting, there are some really handy physical coping mechanism that help. These include holding hands, as it can really reassure tamariki and help them get through something scary. Having them cover their ears to block scary or sudden sounds can also help reduce the sensory overload that contributes to their anxiety. However, having them close their eyes has been shown to be ineffective. And if your kid is really that frightened by something though, it’s probably best to turn it off.

But sometimes these tips and tricks don’t work. Social media platforms can automatically start playing distressing videos. You never know what might come up in your TikTok algorithm. Sometimes you don’t realise what is going on until something shocking pops up, catching you by surprise. It’s also easy to get dragged into staying up-to-date with what is going on even though it makes us feel not good. This is the same for tamariki.

Last year Linde-Marie Amersfoort, child and family psychologist at Parenting Place, spoke with The NZ Herald about having conversations with your tamariki when scary events happen. Linde-Marie shared some great ideas on why and how to have good, safe and open kōrero.

  1. It’s normal to be scared and worried

It is important that we let them know that it makes sense that scary events might make them feel scared.

Letting our tamariki know it's normal to feel worried, confused, or anxious, helps them know that their feelings are justified. They shouldn’t avoid these or try to "act brave." Crying and feeling heard is good for tamariki...and sometimes us adults too.

  1. Be the place where they feel safe

As adults we know that the world is complex and there is always a lot going on. For tamariki it is a bit different and their world seems a lot smaller. They can feel most confident and strong, as well as most safe and secure.

This means that just being with our tamariki, listening and being loving toward our them can be all that they need to get them through turbulent times.

  1. How do you do this?

Listen, empathise and be understanding. Hug your tamariki, even the older ones.

Stay in touch with your emotions. Be transparent with your tamariki and tell them that you are also scared. Just make sure you are calm, patient and kind when having this kōrero conversations.

  1. Do something practical to help them feel safe

We want to reduce their sense of helplessness, alleviate some of their anxiety and worry, and help them feel safe.

  1. Remind them that the world has always been a bit crazy

Humans have always been faced with unpredictable and scary events – this is nothing new. And during these times humans have almost always come together in solidarity.

Check out the full article here.

Further reading

Brain development – how it works, why it matters



Help information

Negative or sensitive content can make us feel not great. It is okay to not be okay. Take a break and talk to your friends or whānau.

Don’t know who to talk to? Free call or text 1737 for more support.

Some good helplines for tamariki are 0800 What's Up, Youthline NZ 0800 376 633 or free text 5626 to contact the Low Down.

Subscribe to our blog

Stay up to date with the Classification Office blog.